Essex Biodiversity Project
Heathland in Essex
Heathland once covered an extensive part of Essex, however today only a few remnant heaths remain. The heathland of Essex encompasses dry heath, wet heath and lichen heath, all of which are made up of a mosaic of acid grassland and heath. Dry heath is the most common form, with wet dwarf shrub heath mainly found in the Epping Forest complex. In Essex, present records indicate there are 34 heathland sites, covering 236.5 ha (E of E Biodiversity Audit 2002). There is also 231 ha of acid grassland recorded making this the more dominant habitat in the county. Thre are an estimated 20 ha of lowland heathland/dry acid grassland remaining and although the remnant heaths are small they are significant in a county context. Open, lowland heathland in Essex is concentrated in a small number of sites, of which nine are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The largest of these forms part of Epping Forest SSSI, with 15ha of existing and degraded heathland. Other significant sites include Thundersley Great Common SSSI, the Danbury Complex SSSIs and Tiptree Heath SSSI. The remaining sites are typically small and fragmented, with less than 2 hectares of dry heath and acid grassland at each site. There are targets to maintain 59 ha, restore 177ha and create 20ha by 2020.
Heathland restoration is being undertaken at several sites including Tiptree Heath where the Biodiversity Project is working with the local community, who were the winning project of our annual awards in 2010, and at Layer Breton Heath working with the Parish Council. Grassland areas of Layer Breton Heath have been cut again this year. A grazing option has been agreed to be submitted in the final Layer Breton FEP & HLS application. A Great Crested Newt and breeding bird surveys have been carried out in preparation for any future restoration works should a full HLS application be successful. Restoration has continued on Layer Breton heath which has included a series of work parties and two chainsaw training days on site. Heather (Ling) has been recorded at Layer Breton heath after an absence of over 30 years following the restoration work.